The end of the year is often a time when people donate time and money to various charities and other non-profits. Some include giving as part of their Christmas celebration. Every year we receive several catalogs allowing us to donate livestock, school and medical supplies, and Bible study materials to poor families, giving them a leg up in becoming self-sustaining.
All this giving is a good thing. God tells us to give throughout the Bible, and we should do so. The Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), and we should give with love and generosity. In return, we find joy in the mere act of making someone else’s life better. If you’ve ever watched your kids open their presents on Christmas morning, you realize the truth of Jesus’ statement, “It’s more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).
If it’s Biblical, it must be true. As believers, we base our lives on this concept. But just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t always mean that it applies now, in our current situation, in the way we think it does. Reread the account of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. Even Satan quotes Scripture. He just twists it, quoting passages out of context, misapplying it, and ignoring other passages.
This is particularly deceitful because there is truth in what we’re hearing. After all, the best lies are mostly true. A nugget of deception is hidden among words that we recognize as coming from God. And so we are misled.
Pete and I were chatting with a friend, sharing stories about how we’d learned to trust God. So often we’re focused on what’s happening now that we forget to look back at the many years of God’s faithfulness and direction. As Pete related one major lesson he’d learned many years ago, explaining how it laid the foundation for so much of the ministry he had now, I realized that it’s a story worth sharing. I didn’t know Pete when this happened—I met him a month later—but it’s had a huge impact on my life. Maybe God will use it in your life, too. Continue reading
Last week we learned that, while a lot of people fall below the poverty line, that situation is often temporary. Also, while the poor don’t earn much by US standards, it’s still over $10,000 a year—plus government and other benefits. What does that buy you? Today I want to address what life under the poverty line is like.
Granted, it’s not fun being poor. Having fewer resources means you have fewer options—and the answer too often is “no.” Opportunities may be limited. Sometimes, things cost more for those who can least afford it—prices at stores in poor neighborhoods tend to be higher than in middle class areas, and you can’t afford to take advantage of items on sale or discounted in bulk. Add to that frustration—being poor typically correlates with reduced influence, both socially and politically. I’ve always imagined desperate families in cars, skinny, hungry children in ragged clothing, and crime-ridden neighborhoods.
“Sure, there are poor people overseas, but we have poor people right here in America. It’s more important that we help them first.”
“I want to live in the United States, where even the poor people are fat!” –Indian laborer
“The poor you will always have with you.” –Jesus
It’s common knowledge that we have poor people here in America. There are families without homes, elderly retirees having to choose between buy food or filling a prescription, and children going to bed hungry.
But just how many families are homeless? How common is it for senior citizens to be unable to afford their medications? What percentage of children lack enough food to eat? How big a problem do we have, and how does it compare with the rest of the world?
Death and destruction never take a holiday. Intense persecution in the Middle East. Famine and war. Tsunamis, tornados and hurricanes. And now a disastrous earthquake in Nepal—there are always horrific circumstances that break our hearts and motivate us to help. So we should. God blesses us so that we can bless others.
Within hours of the first news reports out of Kathmandu, my inbox was flooded with pleas for donations. Relief ministries, friends, and friends of friends all told stories of suffering and begged for aid.
Summer is a great time of year. Backyard barbecues, running through the sprinklers, feeling warm breezes on bare arms and legs—most people claim summer as their favorite time of year. But if you’re trying to run a ministry, or meet a church budget, summer is a time of scarcity. People on vacation aren’t home to make donations or mail checks, and we rarely put something in the offering when we’re just a visitor somewhere else. Ministries that run on donations know that summers make them tighten their belts, so they send out scads of donation appeals. My mailbox is full of them.
Being on a limited income, there’s no way we can send money to everyone who asks. (When Jesus told the disciples to do exactly that—see Matthew 5:42 and Luke 6:30—I often wonder if he had our era of mass communications in mind!) The problem is that they’re all worthwhile causes. How can I possibly choose between puppy-eyed orphans, rescued slaves, starving families, unborn children, our local homeless shelter or food bank, refugees, and entire people groups without any knowledge of Jesus? Indecision leaves me paralyzed.
What do you want for Christmas? As small children sitting on Santa’s lap, we quickly learned to rattle off a long list of our desires—mostly things we’ve seen in ads on TV. Now that we’re older, we still have our lists, posted online at the request of family members trying to assemble a Christmas shopping list.
As the primary gift shopper in our household, I was scanning these lists when the thought occurred to me… what does Jesus want for Christmas? After all, it’s his birthday!
I was reminded of a passage I read recently—found in both Matthew 16:23 and Mark 8:33—where Jesus tells Peter “Get behind me, Satan! … You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” I wondered, what are the concerns of God? What could He, the owner of the cattle on a thousand hills (not to mention the rest of creation) possibly lack? Or, if you’re not the practical gift type, what could we give Him to make Him happier?
Although I wasn’t raised in the church, one of the very first lessons I heard as a new Christian was about tithing. It was a given: God expects us to give 10% of our income directly back to Him. This rule was so pervasive in the culture of the church I attended that no one saw any need to support it with Scripture.
Since that time I’ve fellowshipped with a wide assortment of congregations. I’ve learned that there is more than one approach to this issue of giving. While most believers agree that we are to give 10%, how we give and where we give are subject to interpretation.
God is so amazing!
I hope you know how incredible He is. Let me tell you what He just did for us.
On March 23 I mentioned that we had no money to pay the end-of-month bills. That’s because we haven’t received a paycheck since the end of January. This happens pretty regularly, especially lately. In this economy, supporting a ministry is low on most people’s priority list—after essentials like food, shelter, and taxes. We used to have an emergency fund, but after six years of erratic income, that’s gone. That’s all right—God is faithful. He’s also creative.
So, the end of the month was coming, and I had enough money to pay the credit card bill (food, fuel, some utilities, medical bills, and the like) or the mortgage—but not both. After years of practice, I don’t often stress over situations like this. I get excited. God’s going to come through, and it’s going to be awesome!